Weatherup Basketball Center Becomes a Reality

For ten years, Charli Turner Thorne has dreamed of having a basketball practice facility. That dream finally became an actuality on Tuesday as ASU broke ground on the 49,500-square-foot Weatherup Center that will serve as a basketball practice facility, and will feature state of the art locker rooms, offices and team meeting areas.

The facility, located adjacent to the Farrington Softball Stadium, will give the men's and women's teams a place to train and advance their studies.

"I'm so excited. I'm so excited about this finally happening. I've been here for twelve years and for ten years we have talked about building a practice facility," said Turner Thorne, "You are creating for us the best possible environment for our players to work and to grow and to become difference makers at Arizona State and beyond. I'm so excited I can barely speak."

Arizona State President Dr. Michael Crow saw the groundbreaking as a major step forward for the university that is trying to get its athletic programs to become one of the elite programs in the country.

"This is a big day for ASU Athletics. This is what our athletic programs are about. Our basketball programs are about taking on the toughest competition that I've ever seen," said President Crow. "We have a huge opportunity here to advance our basketball programs and to advance ASU athletics. This facility is going to be fantastic. Two world class practice facilities, one for each team, the modification of this facility is going to be a huge boost for our athletes, for the future athletes, but more than anything, these are classrooms."

President Crow sees the Weatherup Center, which is scheduled to be completed by May 1, 2009, as more than just a place for players to improve on the basketball court, he sees it as a place where student athletes can grow as individuals.

"We're building classrooms for not only athletic performance, not only classrooms for Olympic sports, but classrooms for leadership, classrooms for teaching what it means to be a scholar athlete, classrooms for competitiveness, mechanisms for which we can project competitiveness. These are all very important values to the university. These are the kinds of projects that never get going by themselves."

The facility wouldn't have been possible without the $5 million lead donation by Craig and Connie Weatherup. Craig Weatherup, the former CEO of Pepsi Cola and ASU alumni gave their gift through the ASU Foundation and set off a chain reaction that eventually got the building plans finalized.

"Connie and I are proud to support ASU's athletics, and we hope our gift will help contribute to the quality and excellence that is being seen throughout ASU," said Craig Weatherup. "This brand-new facility will not only bring visibility to the basketball programs, but will help shine a bright light on ASU as a major player in college athletics. We hope our gift encourages other individuals to invest in the excellence of ASU Athletics by providing greater resources for our coaches and programs."

Weatherup says the idea came about when he worked on the same staff as Lisa Love under President Crow.

"Lisa Love was on that staff and we got talking about athletics. We had actually never been involved more than just Sun Devil fans. Athletics was important and very relevant to ASU. That led to a series of discussions and what was really, really, really important right now we agreed was this."

President Crow said that Weatherup came to him asking how he could help advance the institution. Crow saw the need for the facility and suggested it to Weatherup.

"Craig and Connie are longstanding friends and leaders within the university and they came to us and said we want to be helpful to advance the university. ‘How might we be most helpful, you tell me.' We said we need to move our basketball programs forward; we need to move our athletics programs forward. We need ASU athletics to be the most competitive in all of our sports as we can be and we need it to be as rapidly as possible," said Crow.

The facility is just part of a $90 million first phase that will also fund renovations to Joe Sellah Track/Sun Angel Stadium, Packard Stadium and the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center. The plan also includes the Devils' Dome, an air conditioned, indoor football practice facility that will open in the fall.

Men's Basketball coach Herb Sendek believes the facility will help the student athletes in many regards, such as helping with class scheduling which was difficult with the men's and women's program sharing one floor at Wells Fargo Arena. Sendek knows the athletes will use the facility year round, no longer having to train at the Student Recreation Center.

"I want you to know what a tremendous impact that it is going to have on the daily lives of our student athletes," said Sendek, "They are going to have a place to practice and train, not just during our season but year round. It is going to alleviate class scheduling difficulties, it's going to be a centerpiece in recruiting, but most importantly, as they go through their daily lives it is just going to enrich and improve it."

"Anytime we make a decision at this level it is always for these young men and these young ladies. We want to give them the best possible training facilities. This should put them in a position to let them continue to do amazing things for this university."

At the ceremony, Crow told the story of how the process of hiring Athletic Director Lisa Love took place and went into detail of how the state of the athletic department wouldn't be where it is today without the tremendous leadership of Love.

"This is just an exhilarating day, I'm breathless," said Love. "We're actually going to do it. I'm very cognizant when I look at people in the audience that I know that we're standing on the shoulders of those who have been sitting in Wells Fargo Arena faithfully supporting ASU men's and women's basketball for three decades."

"We know that we're standing on your shoulders when we take this wonderful commitment and passion for the sport and advance it so we are all over ESPN SportsCenter all the time."

Love spoke marvels of the jobs both Charli Turner Thorne and Herb Sendek have done to continue to build the tradition of Sun Devil Basketball.

"A year ago, Charli Turner Thorne in the Elite 8, had our women's basketball team televised twelve times. The camera, the microphone and the interviewers wanted to talk to our coach representing Arizona State. That is exactly what I believe we can do to advance this institution."

While the Women's program has laid a path of success under Turner Thorne, the men's program had struggled. That was until the day Love hired Herb Sendek to take over the program. In just two years as head coach, Sendek had the Devils on the verge of the NCAA Tournament, only to get left out on Selection Sunday. Love thinks that the attention the Devils got being left out will be good in the long run.

"When we had our hearts broken on Selection Sunday in men's basketball this year, (Jay) Bilas, (Dick) Vitale, (Steve) Lavin, who did they talk about for three days?" asked Love, "Us, it is all about our basketball brand rising and the commitment that this facility will do for our student athletes and our coaches to excel at the level that we believe that is the promise and the reality of Arizona State and our basketball program."

"You can be proud the way that these programs will perform under Charli's and Herb's leadership."

Weatherup sat down and had lunch with both Turner Thorne and Sendek and walked away with a lasting impression.

"I'm not a very good basketball player, so I don't qualify to judge their coaching abilities, both Connie and I walked away thinking that they were just tremendous human beings," Weatherup recalled. "If they represented the students here and the students were attracted by these human beings then these were the students we wanted to support."

Crow joked with Turner Thorne and Sendek, letting them know that they had his support to continue to build Sun Devil Basketball.

"Don't you go anywhere Charli," joked Crow, "Herb you can't go anywhere either, we have a 40- year contract for you. You'll be an old man before you get out of here."

Under those coaches, President Crow made his goal crystal clear; he wants ASU Basketball to compete at the highest level possible. He thinks that the Sun Devils should be a consistent threat in the NCAA Tournament.

"In basketball, both men's and women's, we basically have the following goal. We want to be in the tournament every year; we don't want to be eliminated in the first two rounds in any year," said Crow, "That is the level of competition we want to play at, that's one of the top programs. We want one of the top programs, for what it means for our teams, the players on the teams, what it means for the coaches, what it means for the university."

"It means that this university is projecting competition at the highest possible level, with the entire world watching what we are doing. What it takes to win at that level, it takes these facilities. If you want to have great scientists, you build great labs. If you want great musicians, you build great facilities. We want to have great basketball players so our coaches find outstanding student athletes and bring them here."

Weatherup concluded the ceremonies with a message to all Sun Devil fans. Weatherup offered up encouragement to continue to donate to Arizona State, because there is still work left to do.

"We have a lot of work to do. We have to finish this and across the street at Wells Fargo Arena and the (Sun Devil) stadium, we have a lot of things to do."

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